My wife and I are big fans of Rev. Rodger Nishioka, an astonishingly bright man. We love his insightful and perceptive approach to examining the big issues of our day. The opening sentences of Rodger’s recent note have been on my mind since I first read it. He wrote:
Hermeneutics. It means “interpretation.” I like to think of hermeneutics as a set of lenses through which each person views the world. Hermeneutics, or how we interpret the world, shape everything. The truth is each of us have multiple hermeneutics. We view the world through a complex combination of lenses. Some of my lenses are male, fourth-generation American of Japanese ancestry, single, mid-westerner (that is the newest one and I am still growing into it) and educated (some might say over-educated?!)
I love Rodger’s idea of lenses through which we view and interpret the world. In times of great social division, it is interesting to examine how different backgrounds and life experiences influence the ways in which we respond to the events around us. As marketers, it is very useful to understand how these factors relate to purchasing decisions. Can hermeneutics teach us something about creating value for different consumer groups?
Lenses of Interpretation
In the Oxford University Press, author Jens Zimmerman writes that hermeneutics “is the art of understanding and of making oneself understood.” Typically, it is applied to the study of texts with the intent to reveal the circumstances that would have influenced the author at the time of writing. Zimmerman also notes that “We only really understand an object, word, or fact when it makes sense within our own life context and thus speaks to us meaningfully.” In other words, we each understand events, ideas, and even products through the lense of our own experience.
For instance, a product almost always needs to solve a problem in order to achieve success. Marketing that product effectively requires us to identify the consumer segments that are most affected by that particular problem and present it to them as the best solution. A better understanding of the lense through which consumers view that product is a powerful tool for creating value.
A Different Lense on Customer Segmentation
Marketers tend to think in terms of customer segments. As Shopify explores on their blog, “Customer segmentation is the process of dividing customers into groups based on common characteristics so companies can market to each group effectively and appropriately.” These characteristics generally include gender, age, location (urban, suburban, rural), and life stage (single, married, parenting status, etc…). They may also include race, political affiliation, hobbies and interests, education status, and a number of other factors that we use to separate and classify ourselves. By breaking down potential customers into these subgroups, we’re able to craft messages that resonate with each one.
While gathering this data on likely consumer segments is clearly valuable, it is based on external factors. The science of hermeneutics suggests that these external identifiers contribute to an internal “lense of interpretation.” What if we could speak to consumers in ways that took their lense into account? Could we find ways to communicate value that align with the way those potential customers perceive it?
One essential challenge of effective marketing is to address perceptual differences and sets of values by creating messages that resonate with our target consumers. As we seek to understand how a consumer segment will respond to a particular message, we should be asking “what is their lense?”. By delving deeper into how our potential customers view the world, we can tailor our messaging to be more personal, more effective, and more valuable.